A Timeline of Miami Beach's Escalating Spring Break Crackdown

Miami Beach police keep watch during spring break 2018.
Miami Beach police keep watch during spring break 2018. Photo by George Martinez
One might assume South Beach residents enjoy living in a neon-lit, bass-thumping party zone. With some exceptions, many of them, after all, chose to move to South Beach. But in reality, quite a number of Miami Beach residents don't actually like when crowds gather to drink and dance in public — and those residents seem to especially get upset if those crowds include large numbers of black and brown people.

Over the past few years, some residents have pushed Miami Beach leaders to mount a campaign against Urban Beach Week, a historically black party. Now, Beach constituents are calling on city hall to crack down on spring break crowds too. Though the revelry has gotten out of hand a few times (a couple of fights have broken out on-camera), the city is once again roiled in a debate over who gets to party in Miami Beach and how much fun (poorer, blacker) visitors are allowed to have in public compared to longtime (whiter, richer) residents. Here's a timeline of how we got here:

1. Years ago, Fort Lauderdale tried to cut down on its own massive spring break crowds, which was a losing battle. Now many revelers have migrated to South Beach. As crowds have swelled, Miami Beach cops in 2016 began using more surveillance tools and blocking portions of streets:
After a tumultuous spring break weekend in South Beach that included the fatal shooting of a 20-year-old man on Ocean Drive and massive brawls that shut down the iconic street, the City of Miami Beach is devising a plan to stop the madness. A citizen petition, meanwhile, is pushing for the enforcement of littering rules after spring breakers left heaps of garbage on the white sand.

In a new plan announced by Mayor Philip Levine on Twitter, the city is clamping down beginning this weekend. More police will be on patrol on Ocean Drive and nearby, and the road will become pedestrian-only between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. Automatic license plate readers will be used to track those driving around the area, and large crowds will be cleared off the beach before sunset.

"Due to recent incidents on Ocean Drive over this past weekend, we have taken additional measures to ensure the safety of our residents and visitors," Levine writes on Facebook.

But some people who live and work in Miami Beach say it’s not enough. Sherbrooke Hotel owner Mitch Novick, a vocal critic of late-night problems on Ocean Drive, dismisses the plan as "the same nonsense that always happens with these flareups."

"This area is in a crisis situation," he says. "The noise is the root of all the problems. They could change it overnight if they wanted to, roll back the closing times from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m."

Over the weekend, Novick captured footage of a visibly intoxicated woman being kicked out of an Ocean Drive nightclub, which quickly grew into a brawl among bargoers, bouncers, and passersby.

2. MBPD in 2017 banned the use of speakers and coolers on the beach during spring break:
Apparently, every large gathering in Miami Beach is now an excuse to attack citizens' privacy rights. In recent years, Miami Beach Police have cracked down hard on Memorial Day revelers, including with license-plate readers, which groups including the American Civil Liberties Union say pose a risk to the privacy of innocent people.

Now Miami Beach announced Monday that the city will impose a similar crackdown on spring breaker this year.

City Manager Jimmy Morales announced this week that the Beach will ban alcohol, coolers, speakers, inflatable devices, and tents on the beach March 3 through April 16. (That time frame also includes the annual Winter Music Conference, also known as Miami Music Week, which runs March 21 through 24.)

The city says Beach PD will use temporary license-plate readers during that time in order to catch alleged criminals with outstanding warrants who might be driving around town.

The surveillance-tech upgrade comes just as Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates is asking state legislators in Tallahassee to amend Florida law to let cops permanently install plate-readers on all state roads, especially Miami's causeways.

In May 2016, the City of Miami Beach Commission voted to let Beach cops beef up patrols during "High Impact Periods," with crowds of more than 5,000 people in a given time.
3. In the leadup to this year's spring break, the city spent $30,000 on an "anti-tourism" campaign to keep partiers away:
Each year, spring break brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to Miami Beach — but those tourism dollars come with a cost. Drunk bros throw punches, twerkers stop traffic for miles, and sometimes a random stampede breaks out, sending South Beach into chaos. Last year, there were so many people in the city that officials closed the MacArthur Causeway for an hour and refused to let anyone else in.

But spring break 2019 could be different. Miami Beach Police Chief Daniel Oates began sending letters last month to college administrators and fraternity and sorority presidents warning that spring breakers will be arrested for excessive partying and drug use.

"Miami Beach has been challenged in recent years by student misbehavior during Spring Break — to the point that our police department must now take a harder line going forward," the letters say. "I am writing to ask that you assist Miami Beach in sharing with your students the following message from our police department: 'If you come to Miami Beach for spring break, you must obey our laws. If you do not, you will be arrested.'”

4. But now, after a few fight videos surfaced online, the city has deputized cops in riot gear to sweep the beaches, a crackdown many critics call racist:
Tension between South Beach spring breakers and older, whiter, richer, and stodgier residents has been leading up to this moment for years.

But yesterday's revelation was still shocking. Miami Beach officials announced that for the rest of spring break, 25-member teams of police in riot gear will patrol Ocean Drive and the beaches. And the city will park police vans, ATVs, and barricades on the beach to chuck noncompliant visitors into paddy wagons and cart them off to jail.

After an emergency commission meeting yesterday, police spokesperson Ernesto Rodriguez confirmed roving bands of cops will be "wearing protective gear, helmets, and will be equipped with shields." He added police vans will be parked "on the sand" to rapidly detain misbehaving revelers. The news was disclosed midway through a Miami Herald article about spring break.

Commissioners discussed the measure after numerous videos surfaced on social media showing raucous crowds, stumbling-drunk teens and 20-somethings, and a whole lot of violence. In one viral clip, a crowd gathered around a man and woman fighting each other; the man appeared to punch the woman clean across her jaw. A new Instagram account, @wildmyami_, seems to have been created just to document the fights and general debauchery:

At least one incident ended in tragedy. Just before 5 a.m. Sunday, March 17, 23-year-old Chicago resident Mariah Michelle Logan attempted to hang from the window of a moving car on the highway. She fell and was killed by a hit-and-run driver.

“This is going to be challenging work, and at times it may not be pretty, but I’ve assured senior command staff, I’ve even spoken to our union president, that I, the administration, stands behind our officers to do everything they need to do to take control of the beach,” City Manager Jimmy Morales said yesterday during the emergency meeting. Miami Beach PD has reportedly deployed 100 additional officers already this year to patrol spring break crowds. Morales complained South Beach has somehow morphed into what he called a "promoted party scene."

5. But arrest records obtained by New Times show college kids aren't even causing that many problems:
Miami Beach began its spring break crackdown late last year, almost four months before the first college kids arrived. This past November, police Chief Daniel Oates began sending letters to college administrators and fraternity presidents warning that law-breaking students would be arrested. The city even spent $33,000 on a hard-line law-and-order social media campaign targeting undergrads.

But Miami Beach's finger-wagging at college students may have been misguided. Arrest data from one of this year's first major spring break weekends show that many of those charged with committing crimes were locals, the homeless, or older tourists. Of 51 arrests reviewed by New Times, only seven involved out-of-state visitors younger than 25. Only three police reports clearly identified the arrestee as a student.

Mike Palma, chairman of the Ocean Drive Association and owner of the Clevelander, alluded to this in an interview last week with local blogger Susan Askew.

"From what we have seen and gathered, it appears that a large portion of the crowds on Friday and through the weekend [last week] gathering in the street are not students," Palma said.

To track spring break-related crimes, New Times requested South Beach reports from the first high-impact weekend, March 8 to 10. Of those 51 arrests, more than half involved people older than 25. And more than half of the arrestees were South Florida residents, not tourists.

The data appear similar the following weekend. At an emergency meeting last week, Oates told city commissioners that only 11 of the 97 people arrested March 16 to 17 told cops they were students.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.